Humanitarian aid has reached the besieged area of Yarmouk in Syria. At least 100 trucks filled with supplies rolled out of the Syrian capital, Damascus, on Wednesday afternoon. The United Nations confirmed that a task force seeking humanitarian access throughout the conflict-torn country is scheduled to meet. Speaking to VOC Drivetime on Thursday, the director of advocacy and strategic communications for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Christopher Gunness, stated that this delivery of aid is much needed.
“We have to pray that what we are looking at is free, guaranteed, and unimpeded humanitarian access,” Gunness urged.
The humanitarian side of the United Nations (UN) has long been calling on the Security Council to assist in gaining access for the delivery of humanitarian aid.
Gunness further noted that “the humanitarian side of the UN has no stake in the political side of the house.”
UNRWA specifically serves the area 6km from central Damascus, called Yarmouk, a 2.11-square-kilometre district of the city of Damascus, populated by Palestinians, with hospitals and schools.
One of the largest exoduses of Palestinians from Palestine, following the Nakba in 1948, fled to Yarmouk and was subsequently welcomed into Syria and granted access to civil amenities enjoyed by Syrian citizens. As a refugee camp the area was notorious for its urban development and unofficially deemed a refugee camp by UNRWA.
With the spread of warfare within Syrian, many regions of Syrian were disrupted. The citizens of the Yarmouk refugee camp became victim to the warfare when ISIS, in its quest to conquer Damascus, besieged the area of Yarmouk. An area that previously was home to almost 200 000 residence, in 2015, UNRWA approximated that only 18 000 remained.
Images of Yarmouk echo images of war-ravaged African countries, where families are forced to burn their clothes to brace against the plummeting temperatures.
UNWRA hoped to reach, in the final five days of aid delivery, 6000 families. The agency managed to reach 5700 families – an accomplishment that Gunness describes as “pretty good going.”
Gunness asserts that despite current efforts it is not good enough to give families, which has lived under siege for two years, 35 kg of food.
“This is not what people need to survive,” Gunness stated.
Gunness noted, instead, that individuals desperately require; hygiene supplies, medical supplies, blankets, and clothes.
He further stated that the temperatures are “freezing cold” and therefore necessitates the delivery of winter supplies.
UNRWA has not gained access to Yarmouk itself. The agency, instead, communicates with individuals from the Yarmouk refugee camp.
Gunness states that the reality that civilians are confronted with is “absolutely insane.”
The daily experiences of those trapped within the camp includes; women dying in child-birth, children reduced to eating starvation diets such as grass, and young people being reduced to gathering untreated water in pot-holes in the streets, since the main water supply of the camp has been dysfunctional for well over a year.
“This is a community that the UN secretary general, Banki Moon, describes as a refugee camp transformed into a ‘death camp, akin to the lower reaches of hell’,” Gunness expressed.
When an official who normally makes use of restrained and diplomatic rhetoric describes the situation with such vivid language, it becomes apparent that the situation is absolutely beyond acceptable.
Gunness urged that “it is becoming inhumane for the international community to sit back and allow this situation to continue.”
He further noted that UNRWA stands ready to assist the sick and dying trapped within the Yarmouk camp.
Gunness concluded by stating that it is becoming evident within the political sphere that this Five-year war is unsustainable, describing the situation as a “stain on the political conscience.”
VOC (Thakira Desai)